Barbarians At The Gate – Book Review

by Mike Holman

In case you are wondering why I’m reviewing Barbarians At The Gate which was written in from 1990 when all the other bloggers are reviewing new books – there are two reasons

1) I read in the Globe and Mail that it was the best business book ever and I have to agree that it’s pretty good.

What it’s about

This book covers the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco back in 1988. The deal ended up being worth about 25 billion dollars which was three times the size of the previous record deal. The authors did extensive research on the deal and had great access to all the parties involved so many of the descriptions of events and meetings have a lot of great details and actual dialogue.

What I liked

The unbelievable greed, excess and egos involved in this deal along with the detailed reporting of the events makes for a very entertaining read. Even though the deal was so big with record fees, some of the competing parties could not agree to work together over things like who got top billing on the deal.

RJR’s CEO Ross Johnson (a Canadian) is a pretty entertaining character since he seems to be the boss mainly because he is so charismatic and knows how to party and make people feel good. The guy also knew how to spend other peoples money!

This book was very educational since it contained so much information about leveraged takeovers and was pretty exciting to read.

What I didn’t like

Pretty long – one criticism is that the authors feel the need to get into the history of a lot of the main characters and companies – but there are just too many. This could have been cut back quite a bit. At 500 pages it’s a hefty read.


A bit long but a great read regardless. I would suggest that when reading the first half of the book which covers the time period before the takeover attempt, if you are getting bored then try skimming through the various history sections. It’s interesting to hear how RJR got its start but not essential to the main story.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Canadian Capitalist

Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been meaning to request this book from the library. But, 500 pages? That is long. Maybe they forgot to send the book to a editor.

2 Four Pillars

CC – it’s a good book but it’s long.

Maybe rent the movie?


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